Issues related to human rights violation, corruption, Manipur territorial integrity, Naga aspiration, Inner Line Permit (ILP), Kuki aspiration and unemployment have been dogging Manipur without interruption in the past 20 years or so, and things seem to indicate that, these issues are here to stay for a longer period than many may think. In the face of these issues, Manipur assembly elections go and come without affecting much to the placid voting pattern.
For the hill people in Manipur, it appears that there is a huge disconnect between elections and issues. In short, issues seldom determine election verdicts in the hills in Manipur. This scenario, however, does not mean that the hill people are not concerned with the issues.
Given this record and background, a poor performance of any candidate or political party pro to the issues may not necessarily be placed as an index or a reflection of the people’s attitude towards the issues.
Ordinary voters in the hills who are constantly disturbed by the thought of basic facilities, their needs become the immediate balm to soothe their headaches. And, it is during the times of elections that the poor voters find opportunities to address their needs. The last 15 years record on the behavior of the voters will confirm this point.
Picking the case of the Nagas to elucidate the point, there is always overwhelming support to the Naga political issue from the ordinary Nagas in the south even though their voting pattern indicates otherwise. Grounds and streets in Naga areas will always be filled by the ordinary Nagas whenever the need arises on the issues pertaining to the Naga aspiration. However, of late, due to lack of suitable mechanisms, coercion has become a tool to channelize the ordinary Nagas in times of elections, thereby inviting a dangerous portend. Extreme care is the language today to address the hurt sentiment. An intervention of maturity and wisdom has become an urgent call of the day.
Coming to the valley districts, Irom Sharmila quit her 16 years long fast to join electoral politics with the main poll plank of “repeal Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)” slogan.
For decades the people in the valley districts have been campaigning against “fake encounters,” for which AFSPA is attributed as the principal cause. The same people have also been accusing the State Government as well as the Union Government of resorting to callous measures in the form of imposing AFSPA. As we all know, cases of human rights violation have been the reasons for the anti AFSPA campaign in the valley in the past 16 years or more, with the public calling the Ibobi Singh Government as too weak, insipid and unfit to be called a people’s government.
But during elections, the same people have voted the Ibobi Singh Government to power for three consecutive terms. The same people also voted the Congress party to represent the valley people in the Parliament in the past Lok Sabha elections. It is either because of the Ibobi Singh Government’s stiff and unwavering position on the ‘Manipur territorial integrity issue’ or a case of the electorate succumbing to material benefits during polls. Or, even both, that the voters in the valley districts find charm in Ibobi Singh and his craft.
Now, the Irom Sharmila-led People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) has fielded three candidates in the ensuing assembly election of Manipur. Sharmila herself is in the fray. The question now is, will the comfort level of the people campaigning against “fake encounters”, AFSPA and corruption be affected if these three candidates are defeated by the peoples’ votes?
The placid voting pattern is likely to be there, both in the hills and in the valley, for a longer period.